Mavs have been the target of relentless derision by blowhard pundits and fans and trolls of other teams for their failure to get another superstar this summer and fulfill their stated goal of making Dirk the "second best option."
Even as the front office made the best value plays of the summer, the haters are all still predicting us as a 7th or 8th seed first round exit. However, with the addition of Mayo filling our last two lineup needs (a legitimate starting SG and a consistent three point threat) I will go on record now claiming that we are certainly a contender for another ring next summer. I may even put money on it, because we’re being so severely underrated right now.
In 2011, we didn’t need two superstars because we had a "complete", veteran team where just about every need and role was filled and had a backup plan. The Big Three model is in vogue now, but our model already beat that model with a team that had every player in his right place, with (if we’re being honest) below average, inconsistent role players like J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson outperforming at the right time in their contract year. Even Chandler was seen as a consolation prize for that summer’s failed free agency plans to land a second star. Nobody would have expected Chandler and an end-of-the-line veteran in Peja Stojakovic alone to turn a first round exit team the year before into a champion, especially one which lost their most promising young player (Rodrigue Beaubois) and their third option (Caron Butler) to season-ending injuries. Looking back, it’s still amazing that we actually did it. You can’t honestly blame the doubters at the time for saying we couldn’t be the favorite, as most of us would have agreed.
Well, the doubters and haters are back as always, because we haven't yet been able to make a fashionable, sexy, league-changing superstar move yet. Yet on paper, there’s absolutely no reason why our current squad won't be significantly better than the 2011 championship team. On paper and if healthy, this lineup looks better and deeper and has a much higher ceiling. And even more players are in contract years than ever before, which usually leads to outperformance. Perhaps there’s something worth keeping about this one-year contract, depth-based model Cuban and Nelson have been following?
We have a superstar (Dirk), an abundance of former-star veterans (Kaman, Brand, Marion, Carter) and young prospects with All Star-caliber talent that has been glimpsed but hasn’t been fully attained yet (Collison, Mayo, Beaubois). And like in 2011, I truly think the Mavericks will surprise everyone as we are arguably the deepest team in the league.
Consider this: the player in our lineup with the worst efficiency rating last year (Dominique Jones – PER 10.3) is currently the stats leader in the entirety of Summer League and has led our team to commanding victories in our first two games. That’s right: arguably our worst player has a better stat line and FG% than Portland’s new starting PG Damien Lillard (the 2nd best stat line in summer league) and all the other feted potential superstar rookies like Bradley Beal and young, experienced talents like Kahwi Leonard. Small sample size of course, but if Dominique Jones and athletic, underrated rookies like Jared Cunningham and Jae Crowder are our “worst case scenario”, we’re in a very good place.
If we can end up signing Delonte West, a 2nd team of West – Beaubois – Carter – Wright – Brand would be arguably the best 2nd squad in the league, with an average PER of 16.8 last year and every player except Carter above the overall league average of 15. Now, PER is an overrated stat, but it still provides a baseline to compare ourselves with the rest of the league. Denver was considered the best bench in the league last season and their second squad (Miller – Hamilton – Brewer – Harrington – Koufos) had an average PER of exactly 15. Even now, without West and with Dahntay Jones (PER 11.87, our second “worst” player), we’d have a better average PER at 15.8 than last year's second squad in Denver. Essentially, our depth chart is already stronger than Denver’s - and Denver does not have a Dirk Nowitzki-caliber superstar.
While we certainly don’t have Chandler’s dominating defensive prowess, we have in his place two veteran double-double machines and underrated defenders in Brand and Kaman. Kaman had as many double doubles per game played last year as Chandler, and I expect his productivity to increase with Dirk attracting the stronger frontcourt defender from opposing teams. Brand, Kaman, Dirk and Marion all made the league’s top 50 rebounders list last year, so we should be a league-leading team in that department.
And instead of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, we now have in their place two 24-year olds with superstar-caliber talent and athleticism whose “declined” production last year in bench roles still matched the production and efficiency of our 2011 tandem: Darren Collison (11.9 pts per 36) and O.J. Mayo (16.9 points per 36).
Both players needed a system change because they were out of place in Indiana and Memphis’s respective systems and lost their starting spots to players that, if not as talented, meshed with those systems better. With Collison running the pick and roll with Dirk, Barea-style, and Mayo as the three point shooter to kick out to, there’s no reason why these two shouldn’t blossom here and regain their step in Dallas's system. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or the other are Most Improved Player candidates and maybe even All Stars, as Dirk is one of those superstars who truly makes his teammates better and Carlisle knows how to bring out the best in players that have been playing under their potential, like he did with Chandler in 2011 and Brandan Wright last year.
The only potential concern for me is the injury histories of both Kaman and Brand. Those two are so critical for solidifying the lineup’s depth, and losing either would probably end any championship chances this year. But that’s always risk on any contending squad, and both are almost certainly better risks to take than any other options we realistically had. Chandler wasn't known for stellar health before he came here – a trade for him was rejected on medical grounds by OKC (to their later chagrin) just the season before our championship year. We are fortunate our medical and training team is one of the best in the league. I’d still love to make a minimum contract gamble on Greg Oden and see what they can do with him.
We match up well with Denver, Memphis, the Clippers and even the Spurs. It’s far too early to say whether or not we should be favored over these teams for the #3 or 4 slot in the Western conference, but we should be considered a candidate for one of those slots. And if you’re in the top half of your conference, you are definitely a ring contender. All it takes is the right amount of momentum, luck and cohesion to push you over the top.
I intend to follow up later with a post comparing stats and advanced stats of our existing lineup with last year’s and 2011’s teams, as well as other contenders. But as of right now we have no reason to reject optimism going forward. Compared to last year, our average age has dropped three years while pretty much every team stat has improved with the lineup changes we’ve made so far. It’s a very good place to be considering the doomsday aura everyone felt a week ago.
Cuban and Nelson may have the last laugh and shock everyone by winning it all with a deep, complete team – again. Not to mention our cap space, D12 chances, etc. next summer.